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Ashley Kelsch on the Ins and Outs of Dating a Single Parent

The life coach responds to a reader navigating the tricky inner monologue that comes with establishing a new connection

This week, I’m answering a question from a follower that some of you may identify with.

Dear Ash,

I have been on three amazing dates with a guy and I’m not hearing from him. He has a toddler so it’s possible that he is super busy, but I want him to communicate with me! I hate not knowing how he feels, if he’s going to text back and if he wants to see me again. Do you have any insight you can share on what to expect when dating a person with young kids? — J

Dear J,

First, let me preface my advice by saying I do not speak on behalf of all parents. I’m only speaking for myself. I know this might bother my fellow single parents, but, as a single mother for a majority of the years raising my kids, I did everything in my power not to date someone with kids. Not because I wasn’t open to the idea, but more so because I was barely able to keep my head above water. Now, I didn’t have a co-parent taking my kids every other week, nor did I have family around. It really was just me, trying to manage our family life with their school and my work, plus maintaining a dating life — it was A LOT to manage.

When I look back, I often wonder how I was doing it all. I don’t think people without kids truly understand just how busy parents are. It’s not even because of a busy job they are choosing. The job of being a parent is choosing them. 

MORE: Ashley Kelsch Navigates the Highs and Lows of Co-Parenting

Austin life coach Ashley Kelsch.

Sports, birthday parties, holidays, school events, doctors appointments, homework at the dinner table, dinner, showers and baths, friend dynamics, sleepovers, forced conversations with their friends’ parents, teachers and coaches. Your life is not yours when you are a parent. And even though some of these tasks slow down when your kids hit high school and develop some independence, mentally, a parent is preoccupied forever. For those of you without kids, you might be questioning having them right about now. (I’m not exactly making it sound like a fairytale.)

Come to think of it, I actually did date someone with kids once. Mine were already out of the house, which made it easier for me to consider, but the main reason I said yes to it was because I found it attractive that he barely had time for me. He was either spending time with his kids on “his weekends” or working on his off-weekends. He would admit — and I can attest from personal experience as well — that people learning how to parent alone struggle in the beginning. Those tiny little tigers usually have their parents running circles for them. By the time “their weekend” is up or they drop them off at school after their week, these parents are left standing in a silent house wondering how to be single for the week. Yes, the idea of seeing people during that time sounds like the right thing to do, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. 

All of that said, J, here is my hot take: You’re not hearing from this guy because he is a good dad and you are lower on his priority list, and you should be. You just met. Four great dates is something to enjoy and relish in, but don’t make his priorities mean something personal about you, that you aren’t important to him or that he is uninterested in you. There is zero upside in thinking like that. 

What I would suggest is that you spend some time getting honest with yourself. Am I okay with not being first on the list of priorities, at least not for the foreseeable future? How do I feel about dating someone who may be unavailable every other weekend and not able to make plans on certain week nights? 

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If you want to be the first and last thing on someone’s mind and don’t want anything or anyone competing for their attention, there’s nothing wrong with that. Or maybe, this situation of divided attention sounds awesome. It gives you both some space and autonomy. Decide for yourself how you want to feel about it. 

If you are open to dating someone with kids, consider going to them and communicating about how they think this relationship might look. Ask them what their parenting life looks like. Find out if their bandwidth is stretched. Do they like to introduce the kids early on or keep it separate until they know for sure they are in a relationship? What’s their relationship like with their ex? Do they co-parent well together? What might dating look like if you keep dating?

Now, I can’t speak for this man and say for sure that you aren’t hearing from him because he is busy with his toddler, BUT, I think it’s important that we spend a moment here. Your brain is doing what brains do on the subject of dating: it’s spinning out. You’re human!

Our brains are designed to keep us safe. Did you know the human brain is scanning for danger every six seconds? It’s looking for good and bad. Our brain is designed with what is called the Motivational Triad: Seek Pleasure, Avoid Discomfort, Be Efficient. Your brain wants safety. When we don’t have that, we worry and wonder, like you’re doing in this situation.

But instead of spinning out, you can spend time figuring out what you can — YOU. 

Check in with how you are feeling. What do you hate about this situation? What is your brain making it mean? Stick with the facts. For example, say he called you back three days after your date. What are the thoughts you have about that? How do those thoughts make you feel? Remember, thoughts aren’t facts. They feel real and true, but they are always optional. What can you choose to believe about what’s happening that allows for you to be present and not stress about the future? 

MORE: Ashley Kelsch — Relationships are Hard, but Do They Have to Be?

Tame your brain and direct it on what to think. Can you instead choose to think about the parts of dating him that you are enjoying? Think about the excitement that comes with the first few months of getting to know someone and having THAT feeling again — that rare feeling of lust and attraction that begs the question, “What’s going to happen next?”

J, I have to admit, many people reading this are reminiscing about that feeling we once experienced and sometimes long for again. 

I can’t wait to see what happens next while you stay present to the feelings of possibility, combined with all the juicy chemicals your brain is producing. Let’s face it, sometimes the idea of meeting someone is more exciting than them or the outcome. What if you just throw yourself into your own internal experience and allow for all of your feelings, while remembering this part is very, very temporary?